JOHANNESBURG — SOUTH Africa's highest court yesterday confirmed Winnie Mandela's 1991 conviction on four counts of kidnapping, but the estranged wife of Nelson Mandela will not go to jail.
The long-awaited decision effectively blocks Mrs. Mandela's attempts to make an early political comeback, and also prevents her from emerging as a political martyr after serving several years in jail. As a convicted felon, Mrs. Mandela will almost certainly be prevented from holding office in the African National Congress's decisionmaking bodies or playing a significant role in a future ANC government.
"I think this is probably the most satisfactory outcome of what was a no-win situation for the ANC," says an ANC official on condition of anonymity. "If she had been sent to jail, it would have been a major headache in the future. And if her name had been totally cleared, she would almost certainly have made a rapid come-back within the organization."
Mrs. Mandela was sentenced to six years in jail for her role in the 1989 kidnapping and assault of four black youths in Soweto. She appealed. Following the April 6, 1992 publication of a Monitor investigation into the events in 1989, the South African police opened a new probe into allegations linking Mrs. Mandela to the death of a prominent Soweto physician, Abu-Baker Asvat, who examined the boys after they were beaten by their captors.
Nothing has come of the police investigation, but renewed allegations took their toll. Mrs. Mandela was stripped last April of her seats in the ANC executive and ANC Women's League executive, and of her position as head of the ANC social welfare department. And Mr. Mandela publicly separated from his wife.
Mrs. Mandela also faced allegations that she misappropriated funds from the ANC's social welfare department.
She has nonetheless continued in her role as a social worker and political activist and has built substantial support in shanty settlements like Phola Park, south of Johannesburg.
She also continues to enjoy support among militant elements of the ANC Youth League. Since the assassination of her friend and colleague, South African Communist Party leader Chris Hani, Mrs. Mandela has called on angry youth leaders to seize control of the ANC from moderate leaders. The call was seen as a clear political attack on her estranged husband.
But last week Mrs. Mandela made a surprise call for black youth involved in the current education strikes to return to school and complete their schooling.
In a 192-page judgment, Chief Justice M. M. Corbett set aside her conviction on four counts of being an accessory after the fact of assault and her sentence of one year on the assault convictions. Judge Corbett, sitting with four judges who concurred, changed Mrs. Mandela's five-year jail sentence for the kidnapping convictions to a fine of $5,000 or one year in jail and a further two-year jail sentence suspended for five years.
Xoliswa Falati, the main co-defendant at Mrs. Mandela's trial, will serve an effective two years in jail instead of her original six-year sentence. Two years were suspended.
Mrs. Mandela was ordered to pay $1,650 to each of the surviving youths who were kidnapped and later beaten by her bodyguards. The youngest of the four, Stompie Moeketsi Seipei, was beaten to death. Jerry Richardson, the head of the controversial United Mandela Football Club, is serving a 19-year jail sentence for Seipei's murder.
The case returned to the spotlight in March 1992 when Mrs. Mandela evicted Mrs. Falati from one of the Mandela homes at gunpoint in the middle of the night. Falati had threatened to reveal damaging information about Mrs. Mandela's role in the kidnapping of the youths and the Seipei death.
Judge Corbett found that both Mrs. Mandela and Falati were "evasive, untruthful, and contradictory" during the trial, and were capable of "dishonest improvization."
Mrs. Mandela was unavailable for comment. An aide said she was writing a university examination and could not be disturbed.